Our visit to Longleat Safari Park

The last day of my mother’s stay this summer is immortalised as the day a monkey pooed on our car. Seriously, my kids thought it was the best souvenir ever. In fact, our visit to Longleat Safari Park in Wiltshire was one of the best family days out we’ve had and a real memory builder I was especially glad we got to share with my mum.

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We had conflicting suggestions on when we should arrive but wound up getting there for lunchtime as it’s tricky for us to get us all out of the house at the best of times and we were cleaning for an estate agent to come around and take photos the next day. So we packed lunch and had a little picnic on one of the tables next to the giraffes before walking over a rope bridge to see wallabies and lemurs. We got back in time to see the giraffes feed then headed back to the car for the safari.

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We spent maybe a couple of hours driving through. The kids were spellbound. We all were. Well, Delilah was mainly feeding (yes, none of them were in their car seats – the cars were going at snail’s pace). I think the most memorable bit was driving through the monkey enclosure when a monkey jumped up and hung out on our car (see monkey poo reference above). Laurence had prepped the car but the monkeys still managed to nab the cover of the soap container for our windscreen wipers.

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Afterwards, we stopped for supper at one of the restaurants before hitting the mini zoo bit where we looked at parrots, walked through the butterfly house and the girls took turns holding a snake! We then stocked up on treats from the sweet shop in preparation for the end of day parade in the square.

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Longleat gave us tickets to visit for its 50 year anniversary celebrations and as part of that, there was an evening parade featuring African singing and dancing, pretty impressive floats (a couple splashed the audience to the girls’ delight) and donkeys being led around and scooped up after (their poo was also a highlight).

We wound up staying until past the girls’ bedtime which isn’t something we’d normally do but it was well worth it and both kept talking about our day there for ages after. We’ve meant to visit Longleat ever since we moved to Bristol six years ago but just never got around to it, partly because we felt it was expensive. Now that I’ve been, it seems a bargain for the experience and that’s even with needing to take it slow with a six-week-old. I’d be up for trying it again during their Festival of Light later this year as I’ve heard great things about that too. We might even get there a bit earlier to do more of it next time.


Mini adventures in Dyrham Park and the South West Outdoor Festival

On the way to a workshop in Bath recently, a friend who was giving me a lift asked whether we’d taken the girls to Dyrham Park, a nearby National Trust property. Her children now grown, she fondly remembered the days they’d spent there when they were little.

When we recently made the most of a last snatch of summer by heading to Dyrham Park for the day, this was very much on my mind. These little outdoor adventures with the children, these are our memories.

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With lots of wide open space, the girls found the perfect spot to fly their kite. There was the gentlest bit of wind but their optimism wasn’t misplaced. They took it in turns to fly it, thrilled with this small, brilliant thing: a kite in the sky.

We became National Trust members a couple of years ago because we wanted to inspire our kids’ love of the outdoors while feeding our own. It occurs to me that for that to really happen, we need to slow down so we can stop, notice and enjoy what they do.

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While an adventure in our books might involve kayaking down a river or throwing an axe, for them, searching for mini beasts, balancing on a branch or even just stopping for a picnic is hugely exciting right now. In a way, that’s a relief because we’re restricted in how much we can reasonably cope with as a family with a newborn baby.

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We managed to make the time for all of those things and more mini adventures, Talitha rolling down a hillside while her little sister found tree hollows to dip in and out of. They managed tick a few more things off their 50 things lists.

All in all, it was a day worth capturing on film below and I’m glad we did. It’s an uber short video. Take a look and let me know what you think.

We’re conscious that as the kids get older, we’re going to want to up our game and push out further in what we do as a family. We’ve done a lot of camping and hope to keep that going. I’m still learning to ride a bicycle but I’m hoping that we’ll one day all cycle together. Basically, we’re saying yes to more wild swimming, more foraging, more time having fun in nature and more seeking genuine microadventures.

The National Trust’s South West Outdoor Festival promises to be a great starting point for inspiration and information for anyone looking to push out further into new outdoor challenges. It’s a new festival in stunning Heddon Valley in Devon with activities for all ages ranging from stargazing to kayaking to bushcraft.

Alongside a cracking lineup of speakers and workshops ready to whet your appetite for the wilderness, there’ll be storytelling, local bands, film viewings, an outdoor bar and the chance to hang out around a campfire in desperately beautiful Exmoor.

The festival is set for Friday 23rd to Sunday 25th September, which could be a brilliant way to shoot into the Autumn when many of us, especially those with kids, could be tempted to go into hibernation mode instead of continuing to pursue life outdoors. It could be just the time to learn to raft as a family or sneak in that last camp out before the seasons properly change.

Weekend camping tickets are £60 for adults and £25 for children. You can check it all out on the South West Outdoor Festival website.

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This post was brought to you by the National Trust


Eight reasons we’re looking forward to The Good Life Experience

Laurence was the first to spot The Good Life Experience. “If there’s any festival I want to go to, it’s that,” he mused, “but we probably can’t this year because of the baby.” I looked at the calendar. The 16th-18th September would make Delilah almost nine weeks when we went. Could we really do a festival with a baby that young?

Then again, Talitha was six weeks when we took her to a festival. We just didn’t camp. The most stressful part of that experience was that I wasn’t used to breastfeeding in public – not an issue now. We did camp with Ophelia at four months. Maybe, maybe, oh why not? Worse comes to worst, we’d just ditch the camping bit and sleep somewhere local.

So we were delighted when The Good Life Experience offered us tickets. Here’s why we’re excited about going.

1. It’s a festival with real zest for the outdoors
The Good Life Experience plugs into the yearning many of us have developed for reconnecting with nature, rewilding and pursuing simpler experiences in the outdoors. From axe throwing to wild running, foraging to adventuring, abseiling to yoga, there’ll be lots of wilderness inspiration with a great lineup of people who are genuinely out there living their passions and are excited about getting others involved.

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2. It’s about so much more than the music
This is a festival that’s as much about books, craft and The Great Outdoors as it is about the bands. There are masterclasses in henna decoration, pumpkin carving, mosaics, woodcarving and more. The Meek Family who’ve written about their many outdoor adventures and their experiences worldschooling will be there as will a pop up library, a mobile bookstore, author and adventurer Ben Fogle, and Mark Shayler of the Do Lectures.

3. But also, it’s about the music
There are a few familiar names in the lineup like Mercury Rev, Cerys Matthews and Gilles Peterson but we’re also looking forward discovering music. We’re particularly looking forward to taking in some rootsy folk and gypsy groove. It could be fun to check out the brass band too. We’ll definitely have to pack ear defenders for the kids.

4. We like that it’s a smaller festival
So many festivals have blown up over the years and become grimly overcrowded. We’re hoping there’ll be a bit more breathing space at The Good Life Experience.

5. There’ll definitely be the chance to learn something new
Apart from the crafts and books I’ve already mentioned, the festival is teeming with opportunities to leave having picked up something new, whether it’s an insight into bee keeping, a Welsh phrase or some swing moves.

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6. We love its commitment to small business
Perhaps unsurprisingly, given that a couple of the organisers are also behind Pedlars vintage shop, the festival’s bias is towards smaller businesses that display careful and creative craftsmanship, sustainably making beautiful things that last.

7. We’re looking forward to eating real food
There’s also a strong lineup when it comes to food. There’ll be campfire cooking sessions, authentic southern style barbecue, The Independent on Sunday’s weekly food correspondent Bill Grainger, food writer and television presenter Thomasina Miers, craft beer and a farm shop, to name a few.

8. The festival is equally aimed at children and adults

The Good Life Experience claims to aim everything at children and adults alike. We’re really hoping this is true. Certainly I can imagine making flower headdresses in the WI tent with my girls, checking out a children’s author or joining in a campfire singalong. Less segregation between ages, more experiences together, please.

To find out more about the festival, check out them out on their website, Facebook, Instagram and Twitter. Adult tickets start at £69 for a non-camping weekend ticket and whether camping or not, kids 11 and under go free.

Thanks to the Good Life Experience for having us as guests!

Photographs 1 and 3 by James Fibonacci, Photograph 2 by Nenad Obradovic


Valley Fest 2016 – Our first festival as a family of five

The weekend of September 2nd to 4th, we’ll be donning our wellies and heading to beautiful Chew Valley in Somerset for Delilah’s first festival, Valley Fest. We won’t be camping since she’ll only be six weeks old but the valley is in such easy reach of Bristol that getting there and back each day will be just fine. I’d love to wake up to a view of the Chew Valley lake, though, so that may be a plan for another year.

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We are, of course, looking forward to the music and a look at the lineup confirms there’ll be plenty to make my folky heart exceedingly happy. With a good range of acts covering funk to ceilidh and three stages, the outdoor Lake Stage in the daytime, Tipi Valley in the night and the acoustic stage at Village Green, everyone’s covered. Certainly, we’re all well up for a jig in a field in some stunning countryside.

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Speaking of fields, for us a huge draw to Valley Fest is its commitment to organic produce and ethical farming. Not only does this mean excellent food is on the menu but messages about appreciating the land and valuing sustainable practices underpin the festival. The Communal Sunday Picnic features cooking stars of the South West and organic partners like Riverford offer us the chance to get intimately involved in the food’s behind the scenes, from farm tours to cooking workshops.

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As a small festival with lots on for kids, this looks like a great first for us. The Run Wild area promises storytelling, circus skills, craft sessions and lots more. With a baby change and nursing area, Delilah and I will be able to take it easy if it all gets a bit much.

If we all need somewhere quieter, we may well retreat to Village Green. Spa treatments, listening to speakers and discussions may be out for us this time around but we could take in the art installations and get involved in one of the art projects. For some serious chill time, we might hit the Film Field for a family film. It’s about time I introduced Talitha and Ophelia to Labyrinth.

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It’s also our anniversary weekend and with a six-week-old in tow, there’s no chance of a child-free celebration so this sounds like a brilliant way to celebrate instead. After all, two of us made the promises that started our family seven years ago, right here in the Somerset countryside.

Adult weekend tickets are £80, £40 for children under 16, plus booking fee. Under 6’s go free. A family weekend ticket with 2 adults and children is £200. Maybe see some of you there?

Valley Fest has given us tickets in exchange for coverage on my blog.


Off-grid in Dartmoor – Safari Tent on Eversfield Organic Farm

A couple of weekends ago, we spent a few days off-grid on the edge of Dartmoor. Visiting Dartmoor was on my list of 30 things to do before I’m 30 because I’d heard so much about how desperately beautiful the moorland is and because a lot of Laurence’s childhood memories were created there.

We’re also always curious about what a living more simply and sustainably could look like. So, when Canopy & Stars, the quirky glamping company, invited us to stay in a safari tent on Eversfield Organic Farm, it was the perfect opportunity to combine all these pursuits.

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We were greeted by Anna when we arrived. She helped us cart our things down a hill on wheelbarrows to Haytor, the safari tent we’d be staying in. It was effectively a cottage made of canvas on a platform directly overlooking a peaceful private lake.

A quick look around confirmed that it was far more fully equipped than I had expected. In fact, the shower and toilet rooms are better fitted and more comfortable than our bathroom here at home! In a tent!

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The kids made themselves right at home, lounging on the bean bags on the veranda and climbing up into the little shed that became Talitha’s bedroom for our stay.

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Talitha wanted to eat every meal outside, to look out at the lake, but we had to insist that it was a bit cold for breakfast. Looking out the windows and opening the front flaps sufficed in the end.

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Canopy & Stars spaces range hugely in terms of experience. There’s always an outdoor connection and something a little bit different but you could end up staying somewhere at the height of luxury (think a yurt with a dishwasher and Georgian furniture) or somewhere where you’re very much camping but in style. This stay was on the latter end. Eversfield Safari Tents fall into the off-grid collection.

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So, we’re talking no electricity, except for a central point where the freezer is kept, full of packs to keep your cool bags going. We didn’t have phone reception either, which was quite liberating (though maybe a little less so when Laurence couldn’t find out what the score was between England and Wales in the Rugby World Cup).

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We enjoyed chatting by candlelight and hurricane lantern as well as cooking our meals and heating the tent with a wood-burning stove. The stove presented a bit of a learning curve. At first, we underestimated how much wood needed to be chucked in to get it hot enough to cook anything but that was soon sorted.

Similarly, we were freezing the first night until Laurence got up and got the wood-burning stove going again. The second night he fired it up before bed and topped it up once during the night (what a guy). We were all toasty and warm. I also had the profound satisfaction of building my first fire to heat the water for my shower.

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The first morning we were there, we took a little paddle around the lake. I promise, Laurence literally only turned the boat around for this picture, then I put the camera down and got in with them!

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An animal farm, there’s lots to see and do on Eversfield Organic, including walks and animal feedings. We really wanted to see Dartmoor itself, though, so we went further afield.

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After a quick stop in Tavistock to get hats (it was chilly and this was the one thing we’d forgot to pack), we had lunch at The Dartmoor Inn. The food was your basic pub food but it was amazing to sit outside, surrounded by the moor. We then found an easy tor to walk up. Laurence and Talitha tried their hand at geocaching. They were unsuccessful but it was still a fun jaunt and we finished it off with ice creams, sitting outside.

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The next day, we decided to have lunch at The Castle which is a few minutes’ drive from the farm and recommended by them. It was easy to see why. We dined outside in a sweet little garden and had the best roast dinner I’ve had in years – maybe ever!

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The real highlight of that day was wild swimming! This is another of my 30 things and I’m glad I ticked it off before it got any colder. We wanted to find Shilley Pool, a known wild swim spot and somewhere Laurence’s family frequented in his childhood. We ended up having to park by guess and walk up a little aimlessly, hoping we’d find it.

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It was so interesting seeing Laurence suddenly remember where we were, showing Talitha the little cave that was pointed out to him as a child and having the memories flood back when we found the little pool. The water was so clear and fresh! And I actually summoned up the guts to get in – we all did! Exclamation points a-plenty because it really was that cold!

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We came away with so much to remember and think about. We’re still unpacking some of the questions it raised for us about the way we live and what we’d like to do more of. Laurence has written a bit more about that in his post Coffee, canvas, caching and childhood revisited on his blog, Chasing Wilderness. Talitha keeps talking about it too. We’d certainly return.

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Starting at £134 a night, sleeping six people, it’s reasonably-priced too. For booking enquiries visit the Canopy & Stars website.

Canopy & Stars invited us to stay two nights in an Eversfield Safari Tent free of charge for the purposes of this review.


iCandy Raspberry review and a wander around Castle Drogo

On our way for a weekend in Dartmoor, we stopped off at Castle Drogo. We try to plan stops at destinations rather than service stations when we’re going on longer journeys and our National Trust membership has helped perfectly with that. I also thought it would be a good time to photograph the iCandy Raspberry pushchair that we’ve been trying out for the past few weeks.

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The main reason I agreed to review the iCandy Raspberry is that you have the option of making it parent-facing. In fact, it’s really easy to turn the seat around either way in just a few seconds. I’ve even done it with Ophelia in the seat, though it’s definitely easier to sort it beforehand.

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We are a babywearing family. Even now that Ophelia is nineteen months, we wear her in a sling or she walks most of the time. However, I’ve found that she naps so consistently in a pushchair and will stay asleep in there for longer than she will the sling these days, so the iCandy Rasberry is a good addition, especially as it reclines flat, completely and easily. It also has a very generous sunshade which Ophelia pulls down herself, which is great when she needs a dark space to just shut off from everything.

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Also generous is the shopping basket. I’ve never come across a pushchair with such a roomy basket. I can easily fit my bag and then some in there and it’s separated into compartments too.

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I found putting the iCandy Raspberry together a breeze, taking it out of the box but it just wasn’t that intuitive figuring out how to collapse it. Once I’d worked it out from the instructions, though, it was incredibly simple and quick. That’s been fine off and on buses and trains.

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It’s been a dream to push around, steering comfortably and accurately. Laurence and I both love that the handle extends quite a lot.

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The only downside for us is that the seat is too small. Ophelia is a big nineteen-month-old, granted, but there’s no way it’s going to last her until three without taking the seat liner out.

But all in all, I’ve really enjoyed using it and it’s a no-brainer passing on the last pushchair we had, especially as this one fits so well in the tiny boot of our Skoda.

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Thanks to iCandy for sending me the iCandy Raspberry. If you’d like to know more about this pushchair, check out the Pushchair Expert review.


Family cycling through the Wye Valley

Last month Talitha went for a weekend with all of her grandparents. It was her first time away for two nights (her request) and our first time having a whole day with just Ophelia. We racked our brains trying to think of something we could do with an eighteen-month-old that we couldn’t normally do with a four-year-old and finally decided to give cycling a go.

Cycling as a family isn’t something that’s possible for us at the moment because I can’t ride a bike and we only have one baby seat. So we went to the Wye Valley in Wales for me to practise cycling. Learning to cycle is one of my 30 things to do before I turn 30 in seven months’ time. It was also a chance for Ophelia to have her first ride with Laurence. I’ve put together a little video of the experience.

I still have a way to go before I can confidently cycle but it feels like a definite possibility now. More recently, Talitha has started learning to ride a bike so let’s see who gets there first!